Delicately sweet yet crunchy and delicious cashew nut packed with energy, antioxidants, minerals and vitamins that are essential for robust health. Cashew, or “caju” in Portuguese, is one of the popular ingredients in sweet as well savory dishes worldwide.
Botanically, cashew is an average sized tropical evergreen tree belonging to the Anacardiaceae family, of the genus: Anacardium. Scientific name: Anacardium occidentale.
|Cashew apple with nut.
(Photo: by Young in Panama)
The cashew tree is native to the Brazil’s Amazon rain forest. It spread all over the planet by Portuguese explorers and today; it is cultivated on a commercial scale in Brazil, Vietnam, India, and many African countries.
Cashew tree bears many, edible, pear-shaped false fruits or “accessory fruits'” called "cashew apples." Cashew nut which is a “true-fruit,” firmly attaching to the bottom end of cashew-apple, appearing like a clapper in the bell. Botanically, this tiny, bean shaped, gray “true fruit” is a drupe, featuring hard outer shell enclosing a single edible kernel known commercially as “cashew nut.”
Structurally, this Cashew "drupe" is made up of outer, hard shell and inner, edible kernel. Cashew shell composes of a toxic phenolic resin, urushiol; a potent caustic skin irritant toxin and therefore should be eliminated. In the processing units, the whole cashew is treated under the high flame to destroy urushiol resin. Thus roasted cashew becomes safe to handle with bare hands by workers, who then mechanically shell the nuts to extract underlying edible cashew kernel.
Cashew nut measures about an inch in length, 1/2 inches in diameter, and kidney or bean shape, with a smooth surface and smooth curvy pointed tip. Each nut splits into two halves as in legumes. The cream white kernel features firm yet crunchy texture and sweet, buttery flavor.
Cashews are high in calories. 100 g of nuts provide 553 calories. They packed with soluble dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals and numerous health-promoting phytochemicals that help protect from diseases and cancers.
They are rich in “heart-friendly” monounsaturated fatty acids like oleic, and palmitoleic acids. These essential fatty acids help lower harmful LDL-cholesterol while increasing good HDL cholesterol in the blood.
Research studies suggest that the Mediterranean diet which is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids contribute to preventing coronary artery disease and strokes by favoring healthy blood lipid profile.
Cashew nuts are abundant sources of essential minerals. Manganese, potassium, copper, iron, magnesium, zinc, and selenium are especially concentrated in them. A handful of cashew nuts a day in the diet would provide enough of these minerals and may help prevent deficiency diseases. Selenium is an important micronutrient, which functions as a co-factor for antioxidant enzymes such as Glutathione peroxidases, one of the most powerful antioxidants in the body.
Copper is a cofactor for many vital enzymes, including cytochrome c-oxidase and superoxide dismutase (other minerals function as co-factors for this enzyme are manganese and zinc). Zinc is a co-factor for many enzymes that regulate growth and development, gonadal function, digestion, and DNA (nucleic acid) synthesis.
Cashews are also good in many essential vitamins such as pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), riboflavin, and thiamin (vitamin B-1). 100 g nuts provide 0.147 mg or 32% of daily recommended levels of pyridoxine. Pyridoxine reduces the risk of homocystinuria, and sideroblastic anemia. Niacin helps prevent "pellagra" or dermatitis.
Additionally, these vitamins are essential for the metabolism of protein, fat, and carbohydrates at the cellular level.
Further, they also hold a small amount of zeaxanthin, an important pigment flavonoid antioxidant, which selectively absorbed into the retinal macula lutea in the eyes. It thought to provide antioxidant and protective UV ray filtering functions and helps prevent age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) in the older adults.
Cashew nuts can be available in the market year round. In the stores, only shelled cashew kernels sold since the shell contains phenolic resin, urushiol, which is a potent skin irritant toxin.
In the stores, one can find raw, salted, sweetened or candied cashews. Buy shelled nuts that feature bright cream-white, compact, uniform and feel heavy in hand. They should be free from cracks, mold, and spots and free of rancid smell.
At home, store cashew kernels inside an airtight container and keep in the refrigerator to avoid them turn rancid. Under ideal conditions, fresh nuts should last for 5-6 months.
Cashews have crunchy, buttery texture with a pleasant sweet, fruity aroma.
Here are some serving tips:
|Cashew fried rice with brussel sprouts and tomato
(Photo: by waldopics)
Cashews can be enjoyed as a snack as they are. They can also be eaten salted or sweetened.
Cashews are nutty yet pleasantly sweet in taste. They can be relished as a garnish in various kinds of sweets and desserts.
Cashews, along with almonds and other dry fruits, are being used in savory rice dishes Hyderbad-biriyani, rice-pulao...etc, and in curry (kaaju-shahi-paneer) preparations in Indian, Persian, Pakistani, and Middle-Eastern regions.
The nuts widely employed in the confectionery, as an addition to biscuits, sweets, and cakes.
Cashew apples are among popular fruits; eaten on their own in many regions around the world. They are also being used to prepare healthy drinks.
Cashew nut allergy is a common hypersensitivity condition in some individuals, especially in the children. The reaction symptoms may range from simple skin itching (hives) to severe form of anaphylactic manifestations, including breathing difficulty, pain abdomen, vomiting, and diarrhea.
The allergic manifestations are due to chemical compound anacardic acid (urushiol) that is present in cashew apples, shells, and nuts. Cross-reactions may also occur with some other nuts and fruits of Anacardiaceae family such as mango, pistachio, etc.
Individuals with known allergic reactions to cashew nut and fruit may observe caution while eating them. (Medical disclaimer).
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Stanford School of Medicine Cancer information Page-Nutrition to Reduce Cancer Risk.
EDIS-University of Florida-PDF.